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Posted Mar 10 2010 12:00am

          The colon is actually the largest part of the large intestine and a part of the digestive system.  It’s a long, hollow tube at the end of your digestive tract where your body makes and stores stool.  Many disorders affect the colon’s ability to work properly.  Some of these include colorectal cancer, colonic polyps (extra tissue growing in the colon that can become cancerous), ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (inflammatory bowel diseases), diverticulitis (inflammation or infection of pouches in the colon) and irritable bowel syndrome (an uncomfortable condition causing abdominal cramping and other symptoms).  The photograph is that of perforated colon cancer.  Active lifestyle into the old age is of clear importance to prevent colorectal cancer.  Moreover, people can reduce complications by keeping bowels moving well, and the best way to achieve that is to drink lots of fluids and make sure that the diet is rich in fiber.  Fiber can be derived from natural foods such as broccoli, carrots, peas, soybeans, potatoes, nuts and seeds.  Finally, screening the colon, such as a colonoscopy, is crucial to protecting your colon health.

          The Early Show on CBS this morning demonstrated a live colonoscopy performed on Harry Smith, the co-anchor of the show.  It was the first time ever that this procedure was televised live – 5 years ago Katie Couric had the procedure, but it was filmed and then broadcasted.  So what is so important about having this rather simple test done anyway?  Plenty.  Approximately 1/3 of patients diagnosed with colon cancer end up dying from the disease.  Last year, the American Cancer Society estimated that close to 150,000 people would be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the United States.  It is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined right here in our own country.  Some people believe that the disease only affects men, but women are just as susceptible to this unfortunate diagnosis.  It is extremely important, whether you have a history of it in your family or not, to get screened.  This test is on my to do list – 8 years ago I had one performed and they did find three polyps.  It also runs in my family, so it is time to get another one scheduled!

          As they indicated on the live broadcast this morning, the worst part of the test is the bowel preparation.  All solids must be emptied from the gastrointestinal tract by following a clear liquid diet for 1 to 3 days before the procedure.  Patients should not drink beverages containing red or purple dye.  In addition, you will drink a lot of liquid laxative and have several bowel movements the day before the test is done.  But this is the most important part in order to get good pictures when the scope (the proper term is colonoscope) is in the bowel.  The colonoscope has a camera attached to it and once it enters the rectum, it is driven into the large intestine and then when it reaches the small intestine, it is slowly withdrawn and the lining of the large intestine is carefully examined again.  It is possible to puncture the large intestine and bleeding can occur, but it is extremely rare.  As with Mr. Smith, patients normally receive a light sedative and a pain medication (I had Demerol and Versed) to keep the patient relaxed.  This is also referred to as conscious sedation.

          A doctor can remove growths, called polyps, during a colonoscopy and later test them in a laboratory for signs of cancer.  Polyps are common in adults and are usually harmless.  However, most colorectal cancer begins as a polyp, so removing polyps early is an effective way to prevent cancer.  The doctor can also take samples from abnormal-looking tissues during colonoscopy.  The procedure, called a biopsy, allows the doctor to later look at the tissue with a microscope for signs of disease.  The doctor removes polyps and takes biopsy tissue using tiny tools passed through the scope.  If bleeding occurs, the doctor can usually stop it with an electrical probe or special medications passed through the scope.  Tissue removal and the treatments to stop bleeding are usually painless.

          In summation, it is extremely important to protect your colon’s health and take measures to prevent colorectal cancer.  Today you hear of detoxifying your colon with several different products, but studies from Mayo Clinic have found that while colon cleansing is necessary for procedures such as a colonoscopy, it is not recommended by most physicians for detoxification.  Their reasoning is simple: the digestive system and bowel naturally eliminate waste material and bacteria – your body doesn’t need enemas or special diets or pills to do this.  One concern with colon cleansing is that it can increase the risk of dehydration.  A potentially more serious concern is that certain laxatives used in colon cleansing, such as those with sodium phosphate, can cause a rise in electrolytes, which can be dangerous if you have kidney disease or heart disease.  Bottom line, drinking plenty of fluids (including water), eating a diet rich in fiber, getting regular exercise and participating in routine colon screenings are the best suggestions for a healthy colon and for the prevention of colorectal cancer.

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